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Potash Corp. (POT): Will Weak Prices Dent Q1 Earnings?

Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan, Inc. POT is set to release first-quarter 2016 results before the opening bell on Apr 28.

In the last quarter, the fertilizer giant delivered a negative earnings surprise of 20%. Its profit tumbled in the quarter, hurt by lower potash and nitrogen prices.

Potash Corp. has missed the Zacks Consensus Estimate in the trailing 4 quarters with an average miss of 11.60%. Let’s see how things are shaping up for this announcement.

Factors to Consider

Potash Corp., in its last earnings call, said that it sees potash gross margin of $0.8-$1.1 billion for 2016, down considerably from 2015 level as a sharp decline in potash prices through the back half of the year is expected to hurt on margins this year.

In phosphate, the company expects that weaker market fundamentals will keep prices for most products below 2015 levels. Moreover, improved operating rates at the company’s U.S. facilities and the Lima nitrogen expansion are expected to boost Nitrogen sales volumes in 2016. Nitrogen gross margin is expected to be considerably low due to a softer pricing environment.

Potash Corp. expects full-year 2016 earnings in the range of 90 cents to $1.20 per share and first-quarter earnings of 10 cents to 20 cents per share. The quarterly guidance reflects severance and transition charges associated with the suspension of production at Picadilly and the possibility of some potash demand being deferred to the second quarter. Potash Corp. also cut its quarterly dividend by 34% to conserve cash amid the challenging operating environment.

Potash Corp. is faced with macroeconomic uncertainties and other issues such as price volatility and currency exchange fluctuations. Depressed crop pricing has created uncertainty about potash consumption. Further, a challenging currency environment combined with economic weakness has resulted in sluggish demand for potash across certain emerging markets. The company has also been facing earnings headwinds from tax changes.

Additionally, potash prices remain under pressure due to increased supply.  Reduced global energy prices, higher supply and weak agricultural fundamentals have also contributed to a softer nitrogen pricing environment. As such, weak pricing may continue to hurt the company’s sales and profits in the March quarter.

Earnings Whispers

Our proven model does not conclusively show that Potash Corp. is likely to beat estimates this quarter. This is because a stock needs to have both a positive Earnings ESP and a Zacks Rank #1, 2 or 3 for this to happen. This is not the case here, as you will see below:

Zacks ESP: Earnings ESP for Potash Corp. is currently pegged at 0.00%. This is because the Most Accurate Estimate and the Zacks Consensus Estimate both stand at 16 cents.

Zacks Rank: Potash Corp. carries a Zacks Rank #5 (Strong Sell). We caution against stocks with a Zacks Rank #4 or 5 (Sell-rated stocks) going into the earnings announcement, especially when the company is seeing negative estimate revisions.

Stocks that Warrant a Look

Here are some companies in the basic materials sector you may want to consider as our model shows that these have the right combination of elements to post an earnings beat this quarter:

Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. APD has an Earnings ESP of +0.56% and a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).

The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company SMG has an Earnings ESP of +1.21% and a Zacks Rank #2.

The Dow Chemical Company DOW has an Earnings ESP of +1.21% and a Zacks Rank #2.

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